Friday, July 28, 2006

New Wineskins - Final Thoughts (for now)

I am so thankful that Jay Leno and David Letterman do not have the PCUSA on their radar. They could have a field day with all of the one-liners that have emerged from the church in the past month. “Nothing has changed.” “Everything has changed.” “We are in a constitutional crisis.” “Mother, Child, Womb.” “Stay, fight, win.” “We are convinced that the church cannot restructure its way to health.” “Constitutional Musing.” All of this would be amusing if it weren’t so sad. Every minute spent on these types of constitutional/institutional infightings is another minute that we don’t spend fulfilling the Great Commission and Great Commandment.

So where do I/we go from here?

First, keep the first thing FIRST! Jesus’ parting instructions to his followers commanded us to be in the business of making disciples (preaching, teaching, baptizing, etc.). Let’s be about Kingdom business first and foremost.

Second, we need to be people of prayer. We need to “do” less and “pray” more. Prayer needs to be our first action rather than an after thought.

Third, become people of the Word. There are too many biblically illiterate Presbyterians in our midst. My eyes were opened to this fact while taking the Bible Content Ordination Exam many years ago. The test had been going for about fifteen minutes when one young man got up and started to leave. His friends sitting near him asked him if he was giving up. He smiled and answered, “It pays being raised as a Fundy.” We need to take Psalm 119 seriously and hide God’s Word in our hearts.

Fourth, regain some perspective. There was no “Presbyterian” church for most of the history of Christianity. It will not be the end of the world if the PCUSA ceases to exist (which is not going to happen) or if churches leave the denomination.

Fifth, keep informed as to the developments in the PCUSA. The issues facing our denomination are serious. I have been amazed at how many pastors do not keep current on the happenings in the PCUSA. There are times when I have received information that was not exactly right. We need to keep involved in the exchange of information from all sides of the spectrum.

I will continue trying to meet my goal of blogging five days each week. I will monitor the denominational “stuff” and post as appropriate. I will try to make it to the meetings in Atlanta and relay the “happenings” to those who are willing to read/listen. Check back next week for some fresh and exciting stuff.

PS – Our “old house” is on the market. Pray that it sells!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

If Not New Wineskins… Then What?

Is New Wineskins (NWAC) the answer for the PCUSA? Is NWAC an answer? What should happen in the PCUSA if NWAC isn’t the answer for the PCUSA and its congregations?

There are HUGE challenges facing the PCUSA: theological, directional, structural and membership challenges. These challenges are listed in their order of importance; but in reverse order as to how they appear on the surface. The continued catastrophic membership losses should be troubling for every Presbyterian! Yet, trying to halt these losses will ultimately fail if the other challenges are not tackled first.

Theological crisis: “Theology matters” has been a catchy slogan floating around the PCUSA for several years. The PCUSA claims that it is “Reformed,” but what does that mean? There are many pastors in the denomination that do not believe that Jesus bodily rose from the dead. Would the reformers have allowed these pastors to be in the church? NO WAY! Why is there no list of essential theological beliefs if, indeed, theology matters? A pastor, in his church’s newsletter, confessed his dislike for the “blood” images around Jesus and forgiveness. Doesn’t Reformed theology say something about the substitutionary atonement? The words “theology matters” ring hollow in the PCUSA.

Directional crisis: The PCUSA is being pulled in numerous directions due to our lack of theological unity. This directional crisis is also caused by a lack of leadership. What do I mean by leadership? A biblical leader is one who is first, and foremost a follower. Leaders need to follow Jesus. Leaders need to sit at the feet of the Master and take on Christ’s beliefs, agenda and theology. Such an action allows Christ to point us in particular directions. I do not see this happening in the PCUSA.

Structural crisis: The PCUSA is locked in a 17th century structure while trying to live in a 21st century world. Think for a moment… how many “committee positions” are there in your Presbytery? Did you know that the next meeting of the General Assembly will have 200+ more delegates than this past Assembly. The PCUSA is hemorrhaging and all the denomination is doing is rearranging the chairs on a sinking ship. The structure needs to change.

Membership crisis: There is no end to this membership crisis in sight. Our denomination will lose people through death, spiritual apathy and departure. Let’s face the fact… we are in a “gray” denomination. Huge numbers of our members are OLD! The church I serve has a disproportionately high number of people over the age of 75, as does the PCUSA. The PCUSA will continue to lose large numbers of members through death. Spiritual apathy will account for some of the denomination’s membership losses. Our denomination doesn’t focus on Bible study, prayer, fasting, spiritual gifts, etc. People stop going to church because “church” isn’t high on their priority in their life. Apathy! The PCUSA will continue to lose people as they depart to other denominations/churches. This will happen at both ends of the theological spectrum. People are getting tired of the constant fighting within the denomination. Many in our midst are packing their bags and heading to different churches/denominations.

THE PCUSA IS IN CRISIS! I predict it will be business as usual. The Covenant Network will keep pushing to change ordination standards. The Coalition will keep gathering renewal groups together, yet providing no leadership solutions for the PCUSA. The Confessing Church Movement will keep their theological positions and complain about the direction of the denomination. The Constitutional Presbyterians will push for churches to actively enforce the Book of Order. The Presbyterian Global Fellowship sees the PCUSA as broken so their solution is to stay in the denomination and direct their giving to acceptable mission agencies around the world. Its business as usual in the PCUSA!

Now you know why the New Wineskins Association of Churches is so attractive to me. They have a biblical and reformed theology. There is direction. Their structure is truly a new paradigm. Their focus on the Great Commission demands that evangelism will be a high priority. My fear is that without the NWAC it will be the same-old, same-old stuff in the PCUSA. Will the last person out please turn out the lights!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

New Wineskins Ministry Networks -- Will They Work?

A KEY component of the New Wineskins Association of Church (NWAC)’s strategy is ministry networks that will connect congregations to one another. If this step fails then NWAC will ultimately fail. Will these networks really work?

Several years ago I was on the Long Range Planning Committee of the Presbytery of Olympia. General Council gave us the task of reorganizing our Presbytery. Oh joy!?! The Presbytery had more committees than you can possibly imagine. A committee automatically had its moderator be a member of General Council (meaning: form a committee to gain the power of being on Council). The Nominating Committee had an impossible time finding enough people to fill all of the committee slots. Council had many meetings where they did not have enough members present to have a quorum. Change was need. We spent several years getting input from the Presbytery and eventually coming up with a “flattened” structure: a smaller General Council, fewer committees and more task forces. Presbytery meetings would be transformed: less time having reports “read” to us and more time for training and the equipping of our church members and leaders. We were going to let the church that would host a Presbytery meeting plan the worship and that church’s pastor would preach (this was “demanded” at a Presbytery meeting). Guess what happened? These changes were too difficult for most of our good-old-Presbyterians. That wasn’t the way they were user to “doing” or “being” Presbytery. Things today are almost totally back to the way things were before the Presbytery was re-shaped!

NWAC believes that the structure of the PCUSA is top heavy and does not focus on the front lines of ministry, the local church. Their networks are a paradigm shift seeking to change our ineffective church structure. I believe that if the networks fail the whole NWAC will fail.

The NWAC ministry networks will not fail! In checking my e-mail inbox this morning I found a message and list of every pastor and elder that attend the NWAC meeting from Washington and Oregon! This e-mail did not come from NWAC office; it came from an elder of a church! The Washington contingent already has a gathering planned for the end of September. Various pastors in my Presbytery are gathering THIS WEEK! The networks in Washington and Oregon are forming. The network is beginning to form.

What will these networks accomplish? The networks will be made up of churches that bind themselves together to assist each other in worship, ministry, mission and accountability. The pastors will meet regularly for support and accountability. They will answer questions such as:

  1. Have you been with anyone since our list meeting which might be seen as compromising? Explain.
  2. Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
  3. Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?
  4. Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer?
  5. Have you given priority time to your family?
  6. Have you fulfilled the mandates of your calling?
  7. Have you just lied to me?

The pastors will also agree to “A Covenant to Care.” This covenant covers areas such as availability, consistency, prayer, honesty, confidentiality and grace. Equipping and fellowship groups will form from the churches in each network. These groups will also have covenants they will follow.

What will hold these loose knit groups together?

Common Biblical beliefs, theology and ethical imperatives will be the foundation upon which these networks will be built. The DNA (to use Rick Warren’s term) of the churches and the pastors will be the same. Each cell in a human body has the same DNA, yet each cell has its own “calling.” The PCUSA does not have a common DNA so there is disunity and mistrust. NWAC has a common DNA which helps to foster unity and trust.

Time will tell if the ministry networks of the NWAC will actually work. NWAC will have a high probability of success if networks form and begin functioning before the February ’07 meeting in Orlando.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Will Love and Charity Abound?

A very good friend of mine was my “eyes and ears” for the end of the NWI convocation. He told me that NWI was asking executive/general Presbyters to not punish pastors that are looking at NWI and their future with the PCUSA. Will Presbyteries and their leadership be willing to show love and charity in the midst of very difficult circumstances? Will departing churches be willing to show love and charity as they move away from the PCUSA?

In Acts 15 we see that Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement over the direction of their ministry. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark; Paul didn’t want to take him. The result was that Barnabas and John Mark sailed for Cyprus while Paul and Silas went through Syria and Cilicia. It was a difficult situation. It was a “church split.” The gospel went forward.

Does the PCUSA, and its Presbyteries for that matter, want local churches to stay in a denomination that local churches feel has moved away from scripture and God’s calling? What would be the purpose for wanting to keep these congregations? Is it to pad our numbers? Is it that we hope they will change their minds about the PCUSA?

The “progressive” side of the church always talks about how “loving and accepting” they are. Let’s see if they are willing to live that out in real life. Let’s see if they are willing to love a congregation that decides to leave the PCUSA, accept that congregation’s desire to depart with their property and then let that congregation go with the property? Wouldn’t that be the “loving” thing to do? Wouldn’t that be the “accepting” thing to do? Those outside the church would sit up and take notice if such a thing were to happen! The world would see a denomination that was willing to abide by the wishes of local congregations.

Will that happen? I think it will happen in some Presbyteries. In other Presbyteries there will be ugly battles over church property. It would be my hope that a local church would be willing to walk away from their property rather than try to fight the Presbytery for that property. That would send the same type of message to the world around us.

This is a time for love and charity to abound. The Stated Clerk of the PCUSA said that we should honor the decisions of ordaining bodies. Will he also say that we should honor the decisions of those same ordaining bodies as they seek to leave the PCUSA with their property? No piece of property is worth fighting over. It will be interesting to see which “side” is going to allow love and charity to abound.